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Gold’s luster grows as investors hedge in uncertain times

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                A customer puts gold bars on basket for sell to a gold shop in Bangkok, Thailand, in April. The price of gold surged more than $30 today to over $1,926 per ounce as investors step up buying of the precious metal often sought in times of uncertainty. Gold was trading at $1,926.20 by early afternoon in Asia, up 1.5%, after surging over the weekend.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A customer puts gold bars on basket for sell to a gold shop in Bangkok, Thailand, in April. The price of gold surged more than $30 today to over $1,926 per ounce as investors step up buying of the precious metal often sought in times of uncertainty. Gold was trading at $1,926.20 by early afternoon in Asia, up 1.5%, after surging over the weekend.

Wall Street is in the throes of a gold rush, as investors drive the price of the precious metal to new heights.

Gold has been the best investment of the year so far. The price of the precious metal has climbed nearly 27% this year, more than triple the return of the largest U.S. bond funds and towering over the roughly 1% return of big U.S. stocks.

After topping $1,800 per ounce in 2011, it’s taken nearly a decade for gold to surpass that level. Gold closed today at a record $1,931 an ounce after briefly climbing to $1,941.90 an ounce. Analysts at BofA Global Research say gold could reach $3,000 per ounce.

Several factors are pushing gold higher: Investors are anxious about the coronavirus pandemic’s ultimate impact on the economy, worried over resurgent tensions between the U.S. and China, and fearful of runaway inflation as spending to cushion the economic fallout swells the federal budget deficit.

Uncertainty over the outcome of the elections in November may also be giving investors reason to hedge their bets with gold.

Meanwhile, the market’s sharp rebound from its lows in March is making stocks look expensive relative to earnings. Based on forward 12-month earnings, the S&P 500 is trading at a 50% premium to its 20-year average. That’s likely making an asset like gold more attractive even as stocks continue to rally, said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA.

“There are many bricks in this wall of worry,” Stovall said.

Here is a closer look at the main reasons behind gold’s run to a record:

THE PANDEMIC

The biggest reason for the surge is fear surrounding the pandemic. No one knows how many people the new virus will ultimately kill — or how much of the world’s economy it will destroy. That sways investors toward the metal that has long been considered a safe haven for wealth in turbulent times. A resurgence of confirmed cases of the coronavirus has put a damper on Wall Street’s hopes for a relatively quick economic recovery as some states curtail plans to reopen businesses. Optimism for a full economic recovery now rests almost entirely on the successful development of a vaccine and therapies to treat patients suffering from COVID-19.

U.S.-CHINA TENSIONS

Worries over U.S.-China tensions have also drawn investors to gold. Washington and Beijing had reached a first-stage trade agreement in January, but tensions between the two nations have grown heated again, adding new worries about the potential for the world’s two largest economies to impose tariffs on each others’ goods.

THE DOLLAR

Many investors see gold as a way to protect against a falling U.S. dollar, and the greenback is at its lowest level against the Swiss franc in more than five years. The U.S. Dollar index, which measures its value against the Swiss franc and five other major currencies, is at its lowest level in more than two years. A weaker dollar also makes gold cheaper for investors buying in other currencies, because it’s priced in dollars.

LOW INTEREST RATES

For nervous investors, the safest places to put their money are Treasury bonds and gold. But Treasurys are paying close to the lowest amount of interest in history, with a 10-year Treasury note yielding just 0.58%. After taking inflation into account, investors are probably losing purchasing power by holding a Treasury that long. That makes gold more attractive in comparison.

THE DEFICIT

The federal government’s budget deficit hit $864 billion in June, the biggest monthly budget shortfall in history. The deficit has ballooned as spending on programs to combat the coronavirus recession have exploded while millions of job losses have cut into tax revenues. A surging federal budget deficit heightens the risk of inflation and may be contributing to investors’ appetite for gold. Investors have historically seen gold as a way to protect against inflation.

“Inflation did not spike the last time we flooded the economy with cash, but it did so in previous periods in history,” Stovall said.

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